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Black group calls for ouster of campus chief

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A group of black former and current administrators and faculty at Baltimore City Community College is lobbying state officials to dismiss the college's president, charging that he has unfairly singled out blacks for firings and demotions.

The informal African American Issues Committee also has called upon Gov. Parris N. Glendening to remove the school's nine-member board of trustees, contending it has tolerated an autocratic management style from President James D. Tschechtelin. The president and three of the board members are white; the six other trustees are black.

"It's a dictatorship. That's exactly what it is," said Frank G. Samuels, whom Dr. Tschechtelin fired in January as the school's vice president for academic affairs. Dr. Samuels and several black people affiliated with the college maintained that Dr. Tschechtelin has trampled on campus procedures to carry out his personnel decisions.

The group has sought support from black legislators and city religious leaders. This year, state Sen. Decatur W. Trotter, a Prince George's County Democrat who is one of the legislators to whom the group appealed, called upon Mr. Glendening's office to find Dr. Samuels a job elsewhere. Mr. Trotter said Dr. Samuels had been wrongfully discharged.

Major F. Riddick Jr., Mr. Glendening's chief of staff, has backed Dr. Tschechtelin in a letter to Del. Joanne C. Benson, chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

"We can determine no discernible pattern of discrimination or other unfair employment practices," Mr. Riddick wrote in the June 26 letter. "Absent some other information to the contrary, we believe that the problem at the college may be one of perception, caused by a lack of clear communication."

While denying that he had violated proper procedures, Dr. Tschechtelin pointed out that he had been named to reform the Baltimore campus when the state took it over from Baltimore City. The decisions he has made in personnel have angered those affected, he said.

"I could have ignored the problem, but I don't believe that's my job," Dr. Tschechtelin said. "It's not in the college's best interest for me to do that."

Dr. Tschechtelin was appointed in 1990 as interim president after the college, reconstituted from the old Community College of Baltimore, had been taken over by the state. At the time, the school suffered from declining enrollment, and state officials said its finances were managed poorly.

He later was named permanent president. Despite faculty opposition and a court challenge, tenure was scrapped, and the teachers' union was tossed off campus. After two years of deficits and periodic spending freezes, the budget is now balanced, despite cuts from promised levels in state funding. The percentage of black faculty has grown. Enrollment has increased to 7,100 students. Retention rates are up.

And Dr. Tschechtelin takes pride in those facts. In addition, he said the school has reached out to establish better ties with public schools and created programs for the continuing education of Baltimore business people.

The black people who are aligned against him, however, said these accomplishments are not his, but primarily those of aides. And in January, when Dr. Tschechtelin decided to fire Dr. Samuels, it brought into the open a racial mistrust that existed among some people on campus.

In addition, both sides agree, the firing of Dr. Samuels also triggered charges against the administration that range from financial mismanagement to filthy classroom conditions.

State Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the powerful black Baltimore Democrat who is an assistant to Dr. Tschechtelin, said the campus does better than some other community colleges in terms of black representation. Figures from the Maryland Higher Education Commission indicate that, as of last summer, BCCC had more black managers and executives than white: 13 to 9. The student body was about seven-eighths black.

That shows a stronger black presence than at Prince George's )) Community College, which also serves a majority black area. At fTC PGCC, 12 blacks and 32 whites are in managerial and executive positions, at a campus with a student body that is a little more than two-thirds black.

'Not black-white issue'

Said trustee Marion W. Pines, who is white, "This is not a black-white issue. This is a certain group of blacks." Ms. Pines said the board supported the president and would not second-guess his personnel decisions.

"I don't know if they've decided that they won't be happy until everybody is black," she said. "If that's the case, this is a sad, sad day for the city. That really shuts us all out of trying to help each other."

The college and Dr. Tschechtelin also face a multimillion lawsuit from Pamela Smith, who is white and is alleging wrongful dismissal. The former internal auditor was fired by the president for what he said was insubordination. She alleged in court papers that trustees and the president had conspired to keep a black-owned business out of the running for a contract ultimately secured by Legg Mason. The Baltimore-based brokerage firm had been selected for a contract to plan for the development of college-owned property near the Inner Harbor. The contract never went through because of budget constraints, and administrators have turned to the state Department of General Services for planning advice.

Caucus hearing

Ms. Smith also charged that she, too, was discriminated against because the college trustees wanted someone black in her position. In an interview late last week, Ms. Smith said she would be unable to continue her lawsuit unless she found a lawyer willing to replace her current attorney on a contingency basis.

The black employee group and Ms. Smith have made common cause against the president, reinforcing one another's claims in separate forums. Dr. Tschechtelin has been further excoriated in a series of anonymous letters this summer to reporters and public officials.

At the prodding of members of the black group, the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus held hearings late last month at Liberty Medical Center. State legislators heard complaints for more than three hours about the college during the five-year tenure of Dr. Tschechtelin.

Critical report

Ten days ago, the African American Issues Committee, which says it has 30 active members who are full-time employees at the college, mailed a 52-page report that criticized the president for almost every aspect of his leadership. (A few people who belong to the committee who were contacted by a reporter did not want to be identified, saying they feared retaliation.)

Professor Cynthia Webb, chairwoman of the committee, said the president shows little respect for people who had been at the college before the state takeover. Ms. Webb, who is black, was transferred a year ago from a midlevel administrative position to her faculty post.

"There's so much swirling, it's difficult to know what to do," Dr. Tschechtelin said last week at his office on the Liberty Heights campus. (The college also has a campus on the northern edge of the Inner Harbor.) "We can address the issues, or we can say, 'What's going on here?' "

He thumbed through the recommendations listed in the committee's report and stopped: "Here. Page 38. 'Immediate termination of the President's current contract.' That's the bottom line of the whole issue, in my opinion."

But Richard Watkins, the school's former director of capital projects, said, "If you look at the pattern, people who did successfully what was needed to be done, especially if they're African-American males, they're targets." Mr. Watkins, a former state budget official who is black, was fired by Dr. Tschechtelin in January.

Statistics offered

Each side marshaled tables of statistics to buttress its case.

The black issues committee noted that 34 percent of all firings at the college have been of black males, although they make up only 19 percent of the work force. While approximately 90 percent of students are black, blacks make up only a little more than one-third of all faculty members. That's unfair, the committee members contend.

Dr. Tschechtelin countered that those figures mask true progress during his five years on campus. As of Sept. 30, 1994, black professors made up 38 percent of the faculty, up from 31 percent in 1989. Blacks accounted for two of the 10 faculty firings during that period.

And while the president acknowledges that 22 black men have been fired during his tenure, 22 black men have been promoted in that period and 49 have been hired.

One of every 100 black professors and staffers was fired, according to the college's statistics. Two of every 100 white employees were fired. The college has about 380 employees.

Dr. Tschechtelin said he had two rules in personnel decisions: first, pursue talented administrators and teachers, and, second, reflect the diversity of the city. "You have to gauge whether we're doing that over the long haul," he said.

"It's not a perfect college," he said. "It's a strong college, and it's an improving one."

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